Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Yes, we still have winter in a warming world


It happens whenever we have weather like this.

As I write, there is about a foot and a half of snow outside my window. It fell less than a month after a subzero cold snap hit here in Chicago as well as much of the U.S. These days, such winter weather tends to prompt comments that inevitably are variations on this theme:

"It's so cold! I thought the world was getting warmer. So much for climate change!"

In a word, no. The occurrence of winter weather, such as extreme cold, in no way negates the reality of climate change. 

Noah Diffenbaugh, a Stanford climate scientist interviewed at the link, explained it this way:

“Steph Curry is, every year, near the top of the NBA free-throw percentages, he makes on the order of 90 percent of his free throws year in and year out,” said Diffenbaugh. “If you turn on the TV and see him miss a free throw, or see him miss two free throws, that doesn’t lead to the conclusion that he’s no longer a good free-throw shooter.”

Heavy snowfalls are also likely. Warm air holds more moisture. If the temperature dips just below freezing, that creates a good deal of snow. We may also see more winter storms like the "bomb cyclone" that recently hit the upper East Coast. Warmer sea temperatures help feed such storms. Warmer air means higher winds.

The linked article also points out an intriguing phenomenon known as the winter "dipole". This is an odd pattern where the western United States is abnormally warm while the east is abnormally cold. No one's sure what's causing it. It may be related to changes in the jet stream caused by ice loss in the Arctic, which is a condition brought on by...you guessed it...climate change. As I said though, it's still uncertain. While finer points and intricacies such as the shape and behavior of the jet stream are still debated and the nature of the "dipole" is far from certain, there is consensus in the scientific community that the climate is changing and we're causing it. That degree of certainty only seems to grow.

I guess what bothers me most about the "So much for climate change" comments during winter weather is how uninformed it all is. It's indicative of scientific illiteracy and even just plain lazy thinking.

Is this willful ignorance one day to be part of post-climate change literature?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets

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